Hamas said on Wednesday that it was not afraid of Israel's threats to eliminate its top leaders and pointed out that the policy of targeted assassinations would only boost the movement's standing.
Despite the defiant statement, sources in the Gaza Strip said most of the Hamas leaders have gone underground for fear of being targeted by Israel.
Hamas was responding to threats made on Tuesday by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who said that if Hamas did not stop its rocket attacks, Israel would send Mahmoud Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh to the same place as slain Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi.
"Mofaz's threats to resume political assassinations and eliminate the Hamas leadership don't scare us," Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri said in Gaza City. "Nor will they stop our process of defending the Palestinian people."
Masri noted that many Hamas leaders and activists have already been killed in the confrontation with Israel, "a fact that has never weakened Hamas."
"The threat to kill Zahara and Haniyeh is a very dangerous development, but as Muslims we believe that our lives are in the hands of God," he said. "Both Zahar and Haniyeh have already escaped assassination attempts thanks to God."
According to Masri, experience has shown that assassinations and arrests of Hamas have only served to strengthen the movement and rally more Palestinians behind it. He reaffirmed, however, Hamas's commitment to the unofficial truce with Israel.
"Our decision to announce a cease-fire [earlier this week] was not taken out of strength, not weakness," he explained.
Hamas has come under heavy criticism from many Palestinians following last Friday's explosion in Jabalya refugee camp that killed 21 people injured more than 120 others.
Many Palestinians have rejected Hamas's claim that Israel was behind the explosion, which occurred when a truck loaded with rockets overturned during a rally organized by the movement.
"The majority of Palestinians does not believe the Hamas version because they know the truth," said Omar al-Ghoul, a Palestinian political analyst. He said that growing resentment on the Palestinian street toward Hamas compelled the movement to agree to a cease-fire.
"Popular resentment against Hamas has grown following the Israeli military strikes on the Gaza Strip."
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